Choose local, small-scale farm meat
Choosing local meat supports the smaller farms that usually practice more sustainable farming techniques.
Find it! Local, small-scale farm meat
Check out the following links to find farms, farmers' markets, community supported agriculture organizations (CSAs), and retailers that offer locally-grown meats near you. You can often drive up to a farm and buy different cuts directly from the farmer or you can call a local farm and arrange a convenient delivery method.
If you cannot get to a farm many cities have farmers' markets and that can help get the food from the farm to your table. In addition to beef, pork, and chicken, local farms may offer more variety and seasonal meats such as goat, rabbit, and buffalo. To reduce your meat-eating environmental impacts, you may also want to consider eating little or no meat at all.
The Eat Well Guide offers a free online directory of almost 9,000 farms, restaurants, stores, bed & breakfasts, and other outlets that offer sustainably farmed meat, poultry, and dairy products as well as flower products in the US and Canada. Enter your zip code or use the advanced search feature to look for antibiotic- and hormone-free animal products, as well as those raised via sustainable production methods, including organic, pasture-raised, and heritage.
Eatwild, a site devoted to information about grass-fed meat and dairy products, lists more than 800 grass-based farms and claims to be the most comprehensive directory in the US and Canada. Click on your state or use the alphabetical list of states. Producers listed guarantee they meet Eatwild's stringent standards. If you can't find products in your area or want products shipped, Eatwild also has a Farms that Ship directory.
Search for farmer's markets in your area. This site provides state-by-state listings that include address, phone number, and hours of operation. Expanded search feature also allows you to search by city, area code, street names, and many other options. Site has operated since 1995.
The FoodRoutes Network sponsors Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters throughout the country. These chapters find ways to connect consumers to local food vendors via outreach education, community events, festivals, and farmers markets. Check for a BFBL chapter in your area to see where to buy locally grown produce, flowers, meat, and other foods.
Find organic, sustainably grown meats, dairy products, and other foods at local farmer's markets, community-supported agriculture co-ops (CSAs), family farms, and restaurants in your area. Local Harvest provides nationwide directories. In addition, the organization offers locally grown meat and animal products from family farms around the country via its online store—everything from bison and emu meat to duck eggs and sheep cheese.
This site provides a guide to farmer's markets and street markets around the world. Search through listings for dozens of countries (from Australia and China to Thailand and the United Kingdom). Search by country, state, or province. Listings provide only address and city.
Use the Farm Locator, provided by the Rodale Institute, to locate farms, farmer's markets, restaurants, CSAs, and farm stands in your area that offer everything from meat and dairy to seeds and herbs. The site soon plans to launch a search feature for businesses, such as restaurants, looking to offer locally grown foods. Search by farm name, product type, city, state, or zip code.
The US Department of Agriculture offers listings of farmer's markets for each state. Click on your state to find a comprehensive list of markets in your local area, including address, phone number, contact person, and hours of operation. Listings are updated regularly to keep information current. Consumers and others can suggest additional listings or update existing information.
Lobby for strong legislation against factory farms
Regardless of where you shop for meat, you may also want to get political. Large-scale factory farms create inhumane living conditions for animals, endanger small-scale farming operations, and create billions of tons of waste each year, and you can do something about it!
- Organize your local community to push for strong, local legislation regarding factory farms, or join an existing group in your area by checking out the Natural Resources Defense Council’s State Activist Contacts for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) Information list or the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s list of organizations working on factory farm issues.
- You may also want to join The Meatrix—a group of activists working to fight factory farms.
- And check out Sierra Club’s Clean water and factory farms activist resources, too.
Choosing local, small-scale farm meat helps you go green because...
- You can cut down on the 1,500 transportation miles that the average piece of food must travel to reach your table.
- This supports and creates a demand for products from farms that practice sustainable farming practices.
- It means fewer animals are required to live in cruel, inhumane conditions.
Since 1935 the US has lost over 5 million local family farms. The large factory farms that have taken their place operate on industry scales. These large-scale farms make up only two percent of all farms in the US, yet they produce 40 percent of all the animals raised and receive a disproportionately large percentage of the farming subsidies available to US farmers. Additionally, 9 percent of the red meat sold in the US is imported from other countries, which adds to 1,500 miles that the average food product logs in while being transported domestically. However, the rise in demand for organic products has helped to increase the popularity of farmers' markets and local products. From 1994 to 2001 there was a 79 percent increase in the number of farmers' markets nationally.
Local ranching and farming allows for a diversity that factory farms try to eliminate—large-scale farms (defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) here) prefer to separate and specialize crop and animal production systems in order to reduce costs and speed production. By crowding thousands of animals in unsanitary living quarters without access to the outdoors, factory farms create the perfect conditions for the spread of disease. As a result, animals on these farms are given antibiotic-laced feed, which ultimately contributes to worldwide antibiotic resistance. In fact, approximately 70 percent of all antibiotics dispensed in the US are given to cattle, pigs, and poultry.
Criticized because of their excessive size, disregard for animal welfare, misuse of pharmaceuticals, and socially irresponsible corporate ownership, industrially-sized farms produce cheap food with high environmental costs. The amount of waste one factory farm creates each day is the same amount as a town with a population of 25,000 people. Water pollution is perhaps the biggest environmental concern. To handle the enormous amounts of animal excrement, farms often create human-made lagoons which can leak, causing contaminants to leach into freshwater and soil. The 1995 New River hog waste spill in North Carolina dumped 25 million gallons of excrement and urine into fresh water sources, resulting in the immediate deaths of over 10 million fish and the spread of a virulent microbe which has since killed another billion.
By contrast, local small-scale farms raise livestock based on animal welfare and quality standards rather than for their ability to endure long transport and production processing. Grass-fed animals generally enjoy ample access to open pastures and fresh air, are healthier, experience less stress, and require few, if any unnatural feed additives. Additionally, pasture-fed livestock are free to graze a wide area of land, thereby spreading their manure (a natural fertilizer) over the entire pasture area, which side-steps the problems associated with factory-farm manure disposal. Other benefits of choosing animal protein from small-scale, local farms include preservation of livestock biodiversity, support for family farms and prevention of urban sprawl, decreased food miles, and lowered incidences of diseases like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
Local vs. meatless
A study by Carnegie Mellon University scientists has concluded that eating less meat will reduce carbon emissions even more than purchasing food locally. The study found that transporting food is responsible for only 4 percent of food-associated greenhouse gas emissions, while production contributes 83 percent; researchers say that means that buying all local food is like driving 1,000 fewer miles in your car annually, which is what you get cutting dairy and meat one day a week. Go totally veggie and you'll slash a whopping 8,000 miles in vehicle emissions. In fact, researchers say that delivery to the consumer accounts for only 1 percent of total red meat-associated emissions.
Why is meat-eating more problematic than driving a car or purchasing far-flung food? The production of meat and dairy products creates a high amount of nitrous oxide and methane emissions, from fertilizers, manure management, and animal digestion. Methane, which is much more potent than carbon dioxide, is produced both during digestion in cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels, as well as during the anaerobic decomposition of livestock manure. Nitrous oxide results from the nitrification and denitrification of nitrogen in livestock (most commonly of cattle) manure and urine. Stats like these have led to questions like: "Can going vegan do more to slow global climate change than shopping my local farmer's market?"
Related health issues
The American Public Health Association (APHA) passed a resolution in 2003 urging a moratorium on new factory farms in the US. They noted that livestock manure and its byproducts pose significant health concerns to humans because of the metals, antibiotics, pathogen bacteria, nitrogen, phosphorus, dust, mold, and volatile gases that are released into the environment. These substances can cause severe health problems for humans, including gastrointestinal disease, antibiotic resistance, and even death. Other, less severe health problems have also been observed. A recent report by the Sierra Club notes that people living within close proximity to a 6,000-head hog operation in North Carolina experienced much higher rates of headaches, runny noses, sore throats, coughing, diarrhea, and burning eyes than other groups polled.
- community supported agriculture (CSA): CSAs are a means of connecting local farmers with local consumers. Consumers pay for subscription to a CSA to support the local farms that have partnered with the organization. In return, the consumers receive fresh products, usually on a weekly basis, from the participating farms throughout the harvest season.
- Eat Low Carbon Use this fun interactive tool to find out how your diet's contributing to climate change.
- Environmental Health Perspectives - How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture
- Farm Sanctuary: Working to end cruelty to farm animals
- Grace Factory Farm Project Their aim: to eliminate factory farming in favor of sustainable food production
- Going to Market - The Cost of Industrialized Agriculture A special report by the Izaak Walton League of America
- Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture How to buy directly from farmers
- 100 Mile Diet The 'local eating' movement
- Sustainable Table The issues related to sustainable food production
- Grace Factory Farm Project - Is Your Meat Fit to Eat?
- Sustainable Table - The Issues: Buy local
- US Department of Agriculture - Manure and Byproduct Utilization Action Plan
- Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Database - Total USDA Subsidies in United States
- Grist - Eatin' Good in the Neighborhood
- University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program - What is Sustainable Agriculture?: Animal Production Practices
- Worldwatch Institute - This Little Piggy Went to the Global Market
- Grace Factory Farm Project - Is Your Meat Fit to Eat
- Sustainable Table - Factory Farming: What is a Factory Farm?
- Sierra Club - Clean Water and Factory Farms: Frequently Asked Questions
- emagazine.com - The Case Against Meat: Evidence Shows that Our Meat-Based Diet is Bad for the Environment, Aggravates Global Hunger, Brutalizes Animals and Compromises Our Health
- Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture - Why Eat Local?
- Sustainable Table - The Issues: Pasture-raised
- American Grassfed Association - Frequently Asked Questions: Important Considerations
- Sustainable Table - The Issues: Biodiversity
- Sustainable Table - The Issues: Family farms
- Sustainable Table - The Issues: Fossil fuel and energy use
- Sustainable Table - The Issues: Mad cow disease
- Discover News - Eating Green: Food Type Trumps Distance
- Science News - It's the meat, not the miles
- Carnegie Mellon - Headlines: Researchers Report Dietary Choice Has Greater Impact on Climate Change Than Food Miles
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Where does methane come from: Livestock enteric fermentation & Livestock manure management
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Where does nitrous oxide come from: Livestock manure management
- About.com - What does eating meat have to do with fossil fuels?
- American Public Health Association - Precautionary Moratorium on New Concentrated Animal Feed Operations
- Sierra Club - Comprehensive Factory Farm Health Studies